Anglo American boosted by strong precious metals

Anglo’s Twickenham mine in Mokopane, South Africa. Photo by Anglo American.

Surging prices for iron ore and precious metals boosted 2019 profits for Anglo American , outweighing weakness in diamonds and coal.

The London-listed miner has led rivals in a recovery from a 2015-16 commodities crash through operational improvements helped by new technologies, investing modestly in high return projects and exposure to a range of commodities.

BMO, Jefferies and RBC Capital Markets said Anglo remained their top pick among global miners

Chief Executive Mark Cutifani said: “We have … benefited from product and market diversification, with strong precious metals and iron ore prices offsetting weakness in diamonds and coal.”

Anglo’s shares, which gained 25% last year, were up 1.8% by 1128 GMT, outpacing a 0.6% rise in the wider FTSE350 mining index

Anglo’s underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA), a measure closely watched by analysts, rose 9% to $10 billion in the year to December.

This was in line with analysts’ average estimate of $9.97 billion, according to Refinitiv IBES data.

Anglo produces platinum, palladium and rhodium which are used to reduce emissions in automobiles. More stringent environmental regulations is forcing auto makers to increase their use.

Palladium and rhodium prices have hit records levels this year as supply has failed to keep pace with demand.

Platinum is also used to reduce emissions but is preferred for diesel vehicles, sales of which have fallen in recent years, leaving prices near ten-year-lows.

Iron ore prices soared following a disaster at a tailings dam owned by then top iron ore producer Vale SA in January last year. Dalian Commodity Exchange’s front-month iron ore futures contract gained 28% in 2019.

In diamonds, the closure of some U.S. retail stores, growth in online purchasing and destocking dented demand in 2019.

“The star division was (platinum group metals), reflecting record palladium and rhodium prices, which could raise 2020 expectations,” said Edward Sterck, analyst at BMO Capital Markets.

BMO, Jefferies and RBC Capital Markets said Anglo remained their top pick among global miners.

Anglo declared a final dividend of $0.47 a share, bringing total dividends for the year to $1.09 per share versus $1 paid out in 2018.

This was in line with its pledge to pay out 40% of underlying earnings.

Anglo did not launch a new share buy-back programme as it approaches is peak spending on the Quellaveco mine in Peru, finance director Stephen Pearce said.

Cutifani said he expected short-term impact from the coronavirus in China on its diamond business and minor impact on iron ore but added Anglo was less reliant on the country compared to its peers.

In January, Anglo made a 405 million pound ($523 million) cash bid to buy a British fertiliser project from Sirius Minerals.

On Wednesday, Sirius Minerals shareholder Odey Asset Management said Anglo’s offer was too low.

Cutifani said: “Our offer takes into account future investment and project needs and consistent with that we believe our offer is fair and reasonable.”

He added that Anglo would bring certainty to the project that was not currently there.

($1 = 0.7766 pounds)

(By Zandi Shabalala; Editing by Edmund Blair, Jan Harvey and Jane Merriman)

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